Say Yes to the (School)

This week we welcome Senior Admission Counselor Samantha Rose-Sinclair to the blog. Welcome, Sammy!

“I like it a lot.”

A nice enough stamp of approval, but not the reaction to a wedding gown that Say Yes to the Dress conditioned me to expect. “The dress” is a big investment and a landmark decision that can drum up emotions of the future ahead. “Like” is good, but shouldn’t my sister be gushing about her love of the dress? Should she be crying? Should I be crying? Maybe I should cry.

My sister and her entourage.

My sister, mom, grandma and I sat in a lovely dress shop in Savannah awaiting Alex’s next thought. She twisted while carefully observing herself in the mirror and smoothing the lace. “Yeah, I really like it,” she said with a smile. She turned to us expectantly and asked, “But what do you guys think?”

For those of you who have never joined in on a dress boutique shopping adventure, here’s the play-by-play of what you can expect: the bride usually brings suggestions of styles she likes. With the help of a consultant, she picks out styles in their shop that match as closely as possible, with the occasional curveball pick or two. They retreat to a dressing room to shimmy on the dresses, and the bride then comes out in the ones she deems “entourage worthy.” We assess while the bride shares her first thoughts, then the group offers feedback and praise (or not) while she stands atop a pedestal.

Now from here, everything I knew about wedding dress shopping (which came exclusively from TLC shows) told me I should be watching for “that moment.” You know, the moment someone tries on their dress and “they just know,” or when there is an obvious blubbering mess of emotions spilling out into the room. Yet here we were, and Alex was very measured and surprisingly calm. Well, not too surprising… she’s a Pediatric ED nurse, so I probably should have expected the calm.

All those magical things, including the notion that you’ll “just know,” are also constantly repeated about the college search process. Even I, as an admission counselor, am guilty of throwing those ideas around. But the concept of a dream college and the idea of one true fit that “clicks” as soon as you step on campus… that may or may not be your experience, and that’s okay.  Colleges are real places (flaws and all), and a “dream school” sets an unrealistic expectation.

“I like it a lot” 

Just because you don’t feel that magical “click” doesn’t mean anything is wrong with the school, or more importantly, with you. If you’re more analytical, consider asking yourself questions that evaluate what you’re experiencing a little more tangibly.

When you’re researching colleges, ask yourself:

  • Do I want to learn more about this school?
  • Where could I fit into the big picture of the things I’m reading about?
  • Does the mission statement of this college resonate with me?
  • Could this school help me fulfill the goals of not only what I want to do in college (and beyond), but why I want to go to college? (this one requires a bit of self-reflection.)

When you’re visiting colleges, ask:

  • Am I counting down the minutes until I leave, or am I excited to explore more? (Note: as tough as it may be, try to separate out temporary things like weather patterns from your long term judgments. A gross rainy day can make you eager to leave, but that’s not what we’re going for here.)
  • Am I looking forward to the possibility of coming back?
  • Did I hear about any unique opportunities today that piqued my interest?
  • Can I see myself engaging in this community?

And for each of the above answers, ask yourself “Why?”

“But what do you guys think?”

Sometimes a trusted confidant can help reshape things or put the process into perspective. The floor sample of the dress Alex was wearing came in an off-white that looked greyish purple. It was hard for her to get past that in order to make a decision, even though the consultant patiently reassured her the dress she’d order could come in ivory. After noticing the hesitation, I asked the consultant to grab a fabric sample of the ivory and we pinned it to the skirt of the dress. Now she could envision it.

Your support system can look at things in a way you may not have considered. You might be looking for a major in Game Design and overlook a program called “Computational Media.” A different term, but a perfect match. It can be helpful to have a second set of eyes to assist in navigating the roadblocks to a connection.

Alex also hedged her emotions a bit out of trepidation for the entourage in the room—mom and grandma’s opinions matter a lot. Sure, she liked the dress, but what if we didn’t like it, and we didn’t approve? Parents, guardians, and supporters: sometimes a little encouragement and praise can help! In the foreign environment of a college search, be reassuring. Your student may be cautiously expressive because they’re holding their breath for what you think, or they may doubt belonging there because impostor syndrome on college campuses is very real.

 ”I really like it”

Photo used with permission from Ivory & Beau (Savannah, GA)

The dress matched everything my sister’s Pinterest board showed she was looking for, and she looked beautiful. But ultimately, Alex isn’t the “magical-fairytale-moment-crying-in-a-dress” type (Trademark, Sammy Rose-Sinclair). Remember, that’s okay. She still said yes! So with her family around her, we celebrated her decision with ”she/I said yes” tambourines (yes, I too just learned that’s a real thing, and now need one for all my decisions) and Alex bought the dress she’ll wear down the aisle next year.

She really likes the dress. She’s even thrown the word “love” around a few times since. Crazy, right? What’s most important, though, is how much Alex really loves her husband-to-be, Dave. They’re patient with each other, they’re thoughtful, silly, and kind. They’re incredibly excited about their wedding, but even more excited about the future that comes with it.

And that’s the real takeaway here: your college will be a wonderful place. I hope you really, truly, like it a lot. But it’s the things you’ll do, the people you’ll meet, the opportunities you’ll have, that will make it special.

Sammy Rose-Sinclair has worked in college admission for four years. A newly-minted southerner, she moved to Atlanta and joined Georgia Tech two years ago as a senior admission counselor on the first-year admission team. She now uses her millennial-ness and love of working with students, families, and counselors to interact with the GT Admission community through our social media channels. If you’ve gotten this far, send her questions about admission or Netflix recommendations on twitter or Instagram- @gtadmission.

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That’s Not How it Works… Part 3

Okay, so I lied. Or if you’re looking to be more gracious and generous (which doesn’t seem to be the norm these days) I was flat wrong. Back in March 2018 I wrote a two-part series titled “That’s Not How It Works!” (You may remember my lackluster attempt to proliferate #TNHIW, but like Gretchen Wieners with “fetch” in Mean Girls— it really didn’t take.) Regardless, my exact statement was, “There won’t be a three-peat or trilogy for #TNHIW, but if you want to peel back more admission myths and misconceptions, check out this layered Onion piece.”

I should have known this day would come. The truth is there have been many things I said I’d never do—wear buck oxford shoes, get a pedicure (in my defense it was a date with my daughter, but I’d be lying if I did not admit I enjoyed it), and the granddaddy of them all… own a minivan (initially painful but man, the sliding doors and TV are sweet). Professionally, this is also true. “We’re not going to the Common App…” “We’ll always release EA decisions before the Winter Break…” “I’m not a bow tie guy…”

So if you want to know who is going to win the Super Bowl, I’m not your best resource. Or if you hear me say, “I’m definitely not going to start wearing skinny jeans,” it’s understandable if you give me a sideways stare with a raised eyebrow.

Here’s the thing about college admission: it’s cyclical. The original two-part #TNHIW series was written in the spring, when we dealt with topics like the waitlist, depositing, financial aid, and appealing admission decisions. All still valid and helpful information if you want to check it out later, but it’s not as important to you right now.

Since I’ve been on the road presenting and fielding questions from prospective students, as well as talking to students on campus, I thought I’d address a few of the common misconceptions admission officers often hear.

Quotas

“Our son goes to X high school. We’re a big feeder, so I’m concerned it’s going to hurt him because I know you only take a certain number from each high school.”

Well… that’s not how it works.

The truth is colleges do want to diversify their class. They work hard to recruit an applicant pool with qualified students from a wide variety of backgrounds—geographic, ethnic, socioeconomic, and so on—in order to insure their entire first-year class is not made up of students from only one county or state or nation. Ironically, what irks people in the admission process (“you don’t take as many as you should from my school”) is ultimately one of the aspects of campus life students (and alumni) love and appreciate (“I met people from all over the state/country/world, and not only learned from them but built a huge network as a result”).

Because there are not quotas, in any applicant pool, colleges can typically point to high schools with a 100% admit rate (granted the n of that varies) and others from whom they did not admit a single student.

Don’t believe me? (Understandable given this blog’s preface.) I point you to the data. Our office frequently gets calls like, “I got transferred by my company and we are buying a house in Atlanta. What’s the best school for my 7-year old to attend if she ultimately wants to go to Tech?”  Since we are not real estate agents, and because it keeps us (okay, me) from asking something like, “I’m sorry, sir, did you say 7 or 17?” we developed and published admission snapshots so families and counselors can see admit rate variance from school to school or state to state.

While not all universities capture or publish this granular data, most of their publications show lists or maps of their applicants and students. They also all have institutional research offices that keep this information  (there are even conferences for research folks, which I’m sure are a real hoot). Go check out some of the tables, records, fact books, and common data sets and you can see a varied admit rate and lack of quotas. Or just go ask your school counselor. Often they track this data or can show you variance in your high school from one year to the next. What you’ll likely see and hear is most colleges admit different numbers and percentages of students from your school each year. “But last year you took seven from our school and this year only five?” Exactly. No quotas… because #TNHIW

AP vs. IB vs. Dual Enrollment (vs. whatever your school calls challenging)

“You like to see AP more than IB, right?”

 “I’ve heard you prefer IB to AP.”

“Just tell me the total number of APs I need to get in.”

“I was thinking about designing my own curriculum. Which sounds better, IP or IA, because you know AI is already taken and I don’t like the idea of having a ‘B’ in there, you know?”

Well…that’s not how it works.

First, if you are applying to or planning to attend a school with a 60%+ admit rate (and remember they make up the majority of colleges in the country), the odds are if you have good grades and take generally challenging courses, slight curriculum differences and course choices are not going to be of great consequence. In fact, many schools openly publish their academic parameters online so there is absolutely no mystery in whether or not you’ll be admitted.

Instead of worry about the type/name of a course- or the exact number of rigorous courses you have taken- here’s what you should be asking: “What’s my goal?” Is it to be as prepared as possible for the pace and depth of the classes you’re going to take in your major or college in general? If so, choose the path that is in line with those goals and aspirations. Look at the kids a grade above you or the seniors who just graduated who wound up at some of the schools you are interested in attending. There are no guarantees your outcomes will be identical, but at least you have some evidence of a viable path. Talk to your counselor now about the colleges you are interested in attending. They can guide you and, hopefully, provide you a bit of solace in your deliberations.

If your ultimate goal is simply to “get in” to a highly selective school (let’s arbitrarily say a 30% or lower admit rate, which would be around 100 of the nation’s 3,000+ colleges), then regardless of what the classes are called, you need to take the toughest ones available and do very well in them. Which classes are those? You know better than I do. What does “do very well” mean? Again… you know. Selective colleges are agnostic when it comes to what the course may be called- they just want to know that you have chosen rigor and responded well to it, because when you arrive on their campus, professors will have high expectations of your knowledge, and you’ll be surrounded by peers who are both prepared and eager to be challenged and stretched in the classroom.

Take some time to ask yourself if the reason you want to go take English or Calculus at the college down the road is really because your high school’s teacher is known to be really tough, or if it is because that is actually the best choice to help prepare you when you arrive on a campus full-time. If your school offers both AP and IB and you have a choice of one over the other, no college is going to say one is preferred in all cases. Instead, they’re going to evaluate you in context of your school. Which one attracts the best students in your grade? Ultimately, “ducking rigor” is not going to fly in the admission process at a college that admits one of every three, five, or 10 students.

So is the reason you want to take Spanish because of your passion for the language, or because you don’t know if you can juggle Chemistry, Physics, and Biology in one semester? Bottom line: the students admitted to Stanford, or those receiving premier merit-based scholarships at our nation’s top schools will take the three courses, suggest a more efficient way to run the labs, and teach the Spanish class. I’m not saying that is the way it absolutely should be. I’m just telling you how it works. And while I kind of hate to be the one to say this so bluntly, someone has to.

Ultimately, my advice is to forget the titles. Start by asking yourself why you are taking each course on your schedule. Is it to protect your GPA? Take advantage of state funded dual enrollment programs in order to save money and earn course credit? Provide time and balance for other pursuits inside or outside the classroom? To avoid a certain subject? Be honest about your goals, understand the pros and cons of each decision, and go from there. That’s how it should work.

Now, I’ve said my peace. Other than Rocky, Harry Potter (and arguably Star Wars depending on where you start counting) there is no need for a fourth edition of anything, so while I’ve learned my lesson to “never say never,” don’t expect another #TNHIW. And seriously, I’m drawing the line with skinny jeans.

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Focus on the Journey, Not the Destination

This week we welcome Senior Assistant Director of Special Scholarships Chelsea Scoffone to the blog. Welcome, Chelsea!

Earlier this month, I returned from a leadership Tech Trek with 10 incoming first-year students. We spent nine days in the back country learning how to navigate through the Bob Marshall Wilderness with 45 pounds on our backs and little-to-no outdoor experience (apart our trained guides).

Our group of 15 included four upperclassmen and me, serving as the lone staff member. We had students from as far away as Rhode Island and as close as Atlanta. They represented future architects, engineers, doctors, and policy makers. On the surface they seemed to have little in common. Throughout the trip they experienced struggles that ranged from taking the wrong trail to heat exhaustion. We experienced the thrill of summiting a mountain and the pain in our knees from descending 3,500 feet on the final day.

I watched the students begin to lift each other up when they were struggling to get up the mountain, share their food when another person had none readily accessible, and engage in dialogue on ideas where they diverged. It was extremely rewarding to observe their personal growth, and it gave me so much faith in the individuals who will be some of the change-makers on Tech’s campus over the next four years.

You may be wondering how this relates to the college and the admission process. Here are five things I learned from the Tech Trek excursion that you will undoubtedly experience during the college application process.

The journey matters far more than the destination.

Montana’s views were breathtaking. Many colleagues told me Montana was the best location among the several I had to choose from. However, I would trade Montana for Atlanta (or any other place) if I knew I got to keep the students on my trip. The students made the trip memorable, not Montana. When you’re going through the college admission process, it is easy to get caught up on the name brand certain universities carry and the preconceived notion that only certain schools can prepare you for success. I challenge you to forget about rankings and prestige (yes, even ours!) and instead focus on which university offers the experience that is a best fit for YOU. Your ability to be successful does not stem from the name of a university, but instead from taking advantage of opportunities and the investment you put into learning and growing during your collegiate career.

Your ability to accept help is crucial to your success.

During our backpacking adventure we hiked 30 miles just over three and a half days. The hike challenged us and required us to utilize our different strengths in order to complete the trek. I found it fascinating that most participants did not want to ask for help on day one, and instead tried to unsuccessfully perform tasks on their own. By day two, each of us were asking for help with setting up tents, cooking food, and even reaching a water bottle that was wedged in our pack. The group’s efficiency and success took a noticeable turn once they began to rely on each other for support.

From my experience working with students, one of the most difficult things for them to do is to ask for assistance from others. Asking for help requires vulnerability and for many seems like weakness. However, let me ask you this—how many college applications ask if you received help during your high school career? Or if you sought tutoring or counseling? To my knowledge, 0% of colleges and universities will ask if you sought help or support. So, what are you waiting for? Seek advice and support from others when you are struggling and remember some of the best leaders in the world are those who lean on others.

This is a marathon, not a sprint.

I vividly remember on our first day of the hike a group of the students nearly running because they were so excited to get to our first campsite. However, after lunch, the group took an obvious turn and seemed to have no energy left for the last three miles. We struggled a lot that day. At the debrief at the end of the day though, I was impressed to see the team reflect on why they were rushing to finish and recognizing that no matter how fast they moved, they were still going to be in the wilderness for three more days.

Their reflection reminded me of the admission process. Many of you will be tempted to rush through your applications so you can hurry and submit them. But then what? For most schools, the notification date is set, and you will still be left waiting for the results. I encourage you not to sprint through the application process. Slow your pace and take time on each part of the application. Stop to take in the view, enjoy it, ponder it, and eventually move on to the next section, much like you would during a hike. The process can be long and grueling. But if you take it one mile at a time you will find it to be more enjoyable and rewarding (and you won’t be exhausted at the end).

You are capable of more than you realize.

I watched 10 students push themselves outside their comfort zone and succeed in the wilderness. However, almost all of them were apprehensive and worried about their abilities to survive the backpacking experience. Some questioned their ability to do it once they saw the strength of their peers and worried they might be the weak link. Luckily, none of them chose to throw in the towel. Instead, they pushed themselves for nine days and found new strength and confidence when they finished the trip.

So, let me repeat the bold words above: YOU are capable of more than you realize! Senior year is difficult. You will likely have to choose between competing events and write 10 iterations of the same essay for your college applications. However, I want you to know you will get through this year and the investment you make with your college applications will pay off in the spring. You will be able to look back on the last nine months and see how strong and capable you are and will be able to channel those skills into whichever university you choose to attend.

Enjoy the process.

The biggest lesson I learned from the Tech Trek was to enjoy the process and not be so focused on the finish line. I enjoyed our 30-mile hike but there were times when I just wanted to finish and did not care about the scenery around me. Some of my most memorable moments on the trip were those that were unplanned, such as an unexpected break to swim in the lake, or summiting Holland Peak, which was not part of original route. Had I only focused on the outcome, I would not have built relationships with others or recognized the sheer beauty of the landscape.

Many of you are in the thick of college applications or supporting someone who is in the midst of applying to college. Some of the best moments that lie ahead are those you don’t expect. Celebrate each college acceptance. Talk to strangers during your campus visits. These are the experiences you will remember most. I know how easy it is to focus on the admission decisions, but I challenge you to use this exciting time in your life to ask current students on college campuses about their experience, put down a textbook for a few hours and catch up with a high school friend, and reflect on how far you have come. These are the moments you will want to remember as you begin college.

Chelsea Scoffone joined Georgia Tech in 2015 and works with the Office of Special Scholarships. In her current role, she manages the recruitment and selection process for the Stamps President’s and Gold Scholarships and assists with other programmatic responsibilities such as student mentorship, academic support, and student development initiatives. Her interest in merit scholarships has led her to her involvement on the Board of Directors for the Undergraduate Scholars Program Administrators Association where she currently serves as Vice President.

 

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Focus on What You Can Control

This week we welcome Regional Director of Admission (West Coast) Ashley Brookshire to the blog. Welcome, Ashley!

I loathe feeling out of control. My Type A personality enjoys organization, logical outcomes, and the authority to make decisions. Maybe that’s why adjusting to LA traffic has proven to be such a struggle.

If given the choice, I think most of us would choose being a driver over a passenger, especially in situations where we’re heavily invested in the outcome. Whether you’re putting an offer in on a house, waiting for test results, or doing something else that generally relinquishes your decision-making power to a third-party, it feels particularly chaotic and stressful.

Similarly, there are a lot of pieces of the college application process you can’t control. Worrying about who else is in the applicant pool for admission is misplaced; there’s nothing you can do to impact the decisions that individual students across the country make when it comes to their college applications.

Instead, focus on what you can control. Trust me – there is a lot within the admission process that puts you in the driver’s seat, even though sometimes it may not feel that way. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

What Matters?

You get to decide what matters to you in a college experience, and also decide how much time and effort you’ll exert to learn about colleges that offer those opportunities. The college search process should involve some soul searching, the benefits of which stretch far beyond creating a college list.

Take time to truly reflect on these questions:

  • What excites you about college?
  • Why do you want to go?
  • Are there pressures coming from others in your life that are directing your search on your behalf?
  • What type of environments allow you to thrive? Encourage you to grow? Make you happy?

You’re the one who will be calling this place your home away from home, not your parents, classmates, or overzealous neighbor. Wisdom and insights from others can be immensely helpful, but make sure you’re using this as a resource, not the final authority.

Take time to figure out what you’re looking for—it’s  much easier to find “it” if you know what “it” is.

Once you know the qualities of a college that excite you, start your search! There are more than 4,000 colleges in the US alone, and while many have overlapping traits, they also offer distinct communities and programs.

You get to decide how much time is spent in this process. If you truly take your time to learn more about yourself, as well as your educational options, then you’ll build confidence in yourself, as well as building a college list. If you’re only using word-of-mouth or quick ranking websites to build your list, then you’re leaving a lot of unknowns out there. Take time on the front end – it’ll direct the rest of your college search, all the way until you’ve made your final decision.

Set Your Pace

You control the time frame in which you work on your applications. An application deadline does not mean you have to submit your completed application during that 24-hour window. It means that—after  weeks of time to compile your thoughts, achievements, and story—applications  must be submitted no later than this date. You can decide how the work is broken up over the course of the weekends prior to the deadline, or if you’ll be using the last 2 hours ahead of the deadline to try to complete a well-polished application (spoiler alert: you likely will not put your best foot forward if you’re opting for the latter).

Be a Decision Maker

As mentioned before, you choose where you’ll submit your college applications. You get to set your priorities, craft your list, and actually apply to those schools. The colleges will evaluate the applications they’ve received against the institutional priorities set for them, then deliver the information back to students in the form of admission decisions. This particular step, the review of your application, falls into the “out of your control” category.

That being said, if the college needs additional information from you, they will reach out (check your email!). Make sure you’ve set up an organizational system to catch these important e-mails and requests! Need ideas? Check out this previous blog post.

Once admission decisions have been released, the ball is back in your court! You get to bookend this process as the decision-maker. From the collection of acceptance letters you’ve received, you now have the privilege of deciding where you’d like to attend (and these should all be from schools where you can see yourself enrolling. After all, you are the one who decided to apply in the first place!).

Managing anxiety and worry is challenging, but these emotions do not need to dominate your college search and selection. Take ownership, pride, and comfort in all the control you have in these processes, rather than dwelling on the few pieces that are out of your hands. Good luck!

Ashley Brookshire is an Atlanta native and Georgia Tech alumna who has worked in college admission for more than nine years. Ashley serves as Georgia Tech’s Regional Director of Admission for the West Coast, making her home in Southern California.

 

 

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What Are You Strava-ing For?

I run. That is to say I’m not a pure or true runner. True runners glide. True runners wear shorter shorts, lighter weight shirts, and have a shoe rotation system. True runners portion out food, drink blended stuff with weird combinations of veggies and powder, and talk a lot about running. I simply run. I enjoy the simplicity of leaving my house early in the morning, being the first to see late night road kill, and experiencing the quiet darkness when most the world is still sleeping or blearily rousing to make coffee.

We all need our head clearing experiences, moments of freedom, and frankly, time to be alone. With two big kids and a loud staff….wait, reverse that… with two loud kids and a big staff, running is one of the only times I can tune out the world, reflect, consider, plan, or simply let my mind go blank. However, in June I was visiting a friend in Asheville, NC who introduced me to an app called Strava. The program allows you to see total distance, pace per mile, elevation gain, and maps your route. Since he’s not on any other social media platform, his pitch was it would be a good way to keep up with each other,  and it would offer some accountability on training. I suggested just texting, but he doesn’t do that much either.

I downloaded the app and started carrying my phone on runs, since I don’t have a fancy watch (because, again, I’m not a true runner. What he did not tell me is Strava also allows you to see who else has run your same route. So if you run a certain segment in your area and have the 10th fastest time or better, you receive “achievements” with medals for being 3rd or faster, and apparently a “crown” if you are the fastest on that hill or mile or loop.

Before I had this app, I rarely brought my phone with me on a run unless I needed the flashlight or wanted to listen to a podcast. Before I had the app, I’d come home with new ideas or perspective, or just feeling lighter (minus my legs) because I’d tuned out and refilled my proverbial cup. Lately, I’ve been coming back and checking to see my pace, achievements, and who else I know has run those segments. Even in the middle of runs, I’ve found myself thinking, “I need to PR (personal record—it  tracks those too) this mile or loop.”

Strava also allows other runners and your own contacts (like my friend in Asheville) to give you “kudos” or comment on your run, hike, or bike ride. So, admittedly, after a particularly long run or faster route, I’ll check back later in the day to see if anyone interacted with my post.

What are you Strava-ing for?

If you are a high school senior, you are probably starting to work on your college applications. Before you start contemplating which essay topic to choose or ruminating on whether to use “raconteur” as a way of describing yourself in your supplemental essay question, ask these basic questions first:

Why?

I’ve had to reconsider why I run. As a senior, everyone will ask you “Where you want to go to college?” I’m hoping you’ll tune out those voices for a bit and go all the way back to crawling before walking, much less running. Before you submit even one application, take some time to write down, voice record, or type out your answers to “Why??”

  • Why would you invest this much money in a college education?
  • Why are you willing to work hard academically beyond high school to earn a particular degree?
  • Why are you going to leave all of your friends, and the comfort of the known and move 500 miles away to sleep in a single bed and share an 8×8 room?
  • Why are you going to study until 3 a.m. and eat coffee grounds to stay awake in preparation for a Differential Equations or British Literature exam?

Why is tough. It leads to big questions like who are you? And who do you want to be in the future? You may get there eventually, but you can start more simply with:

  • Who do I hope to meet, connect with, and learn from in college?
  • What opportunities do I want this experience to provide in the future?
  • What type of people and learning environments bring out my best?

Ask anyone who has been to college and if they are honest, they can describe a dark, cold day in their first year when they sat on their all-too-firm mattress in their residence hall listening to a song that reminded them of high school friends or their hometown. They remember doing laundry at midnight alone, or leaving the library bleary-eyed and over-caffeinated. Social media will tell you that college is a never ending string of sunny days filled with groups of smiling friends going to class outside, but at some point every first-year student has the same questions rattle around in their head: “Why am I here?” “Did I make the right choice?” “Why does everyone else seem to be doing well, while I am struggling?” Everyone has that day. Everyone has those lonely walks, isolated thoughts and inevitable doubts. Everyone. Crawl first.

Where?  

Look closely again at the list of colleges you are applying to. Why is each one on your list? If it is because it aligns with your answers above; you feel confident you would thrive in that environment; they offer the major you are excited to pursue; or you know people who are there that have a lot of similar interests and goals, then you are good to go. If it is just because your parents went there, it is highly ranked, you like their colors or mascot, or “someone told me it was good,” then take a step back. You need to wait to hit submit on every application until you’ve really considered how that places matches up with your whys. Walk on.

Who?

Listen. I don’t have all the answers. I’m over twice your age and a stupid running app has me all twisted up in the game right now. But I can tell you this: being at peace and confidently answering “Who is this really for?” is a pretty essential question to ask before you make any big life decision. Actually, it’s a pretty good one to ask each morning when you get dressed too. Who is the for? Is your “run” purely for you or is it because you want “kudos” from someone else? Is your first choice college first because it aligns with your whys, or because you think there will be some medal or crown for getting in? I’m not trying to be too dramatic here, but I’ve seen folks wake up in their 40’s realizing they’ve lived way too long without being honest about their answers to, “Who’s this really for?”

Last week I was really struggling with a decision. I needed to clear my head and process. So Saturday morning, I woke up early, grabbed my shoes, put on my longer-than-a-real-runner shorts, and headed out on a trail. No phone. No app. I have no idea how long, fast, or relatively well I ran that day. But I worked through my problem. I came back with a new way to approach the situation. I asked, “Why? And who is this really for?” The run, the process, the decision was purely mine. I knew what I was Strava-ing for. I can only wish the same for you. Run well, my friends.